Designer Spotlight: Bill Gibb

Posted by Cherie
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Bill Gibb and Models, 1970s.


Editor's note (Updated): One of my goals for 2016 was to continue to help spread and share our love and knowledge of why this little world of vintage loveliness that I have created amongst these web pages even exists. Beyond posting pretty pictures and editorials and sharing stories of days gone by, everything I do with my team really springs from my great love of the vintage that I source and find all around the world. It is at heart, all about vintage, and yet sometimes I feel that with all the other aspects that go into running this blog and the site that I can get caught up in so many things that take away from the simple act of my love of the great designers and their creations. To offset that, I have decided to highlight one of the designers whose work I love. I originally began to do this each week but that has since evolved into my weekly column that now posts each Friday. These original columns and my new weekly column is not intended as comprehensive biographies but rather bits and pieces of what I have learned through my years in this business, along with some examples of the work and pieces I have in my shop. It is my own version of a love tribute to someone from the past. xx Cherie


Before I dig into Bill Gibb this week I want to say thank you - my post on Geoffrey Beene (click here to read if you missed it!) was the top read post on the blog last week and I received notes from several of you about it and how much you enjoyed it. I also wanted to answer a question on why we don't have a comments section anymore - it gets spammed like mad and there seems to be no way to control this. For some reason no matter what we do, we inevitably get spam-botted and so I just abolished it rather then submitting everyone to seeing all that spam in the comments.

I also wanted to give fair warning that there is a high chance that I will say "I love" every single designer that I cover each time. I know it sounds a little tedious and I know I own a shop so it might sound superfluous, but the truth is - it is actually the truth. I do love many, many designers and my love runs far and wide over the decades. It's part and parcel of what I do and I am endlessly developing little mini-obsessions with someone's work and going on a mad dsicovery spree and then turning my attention to another when something about that catches my eye. This particularly happens when I luck upon a really, really good piece and sometimes it takes months and months before I work up the gumption to actually let some pieces go. Gibb can do that to me in a heart beat.

On the topper for the Bill Gibb section of the site we have this little intro to his work and career:

"John Galliano said of Bill Gibb: “British designers are storytellers, dreamer, and I think this was really the essence of Bull Gibb.” Gibb’s garments mix historical references, ethnic influences and contrasting fabrics all put together in a heady mix inspired by Pre-Raphaelite, Renaissance and Gothic paintings. This broad scale mix of references give his creations an undeniable epic and fantasy-like feel. He came from nowhere, became famous dressing high society and rockstars and yet managed to lose all his finding and fade into relative obscurity. For the true vintage lover though, his clothes are highly collectible and coveted and recently the subject of museum exhibits and books. You see a strong theme of animals and nature and the bee in particular. The shapes are voluminous and romantic and each piece a work of art."

If we then follow that string of thought and reference back to the press release from December, 2014 that introduced the latest exhibit to include some of his work we can read this:

"Classic gowns designed by some of the most famous names in world couture will be on display at the Fashion Museum in Bath throughout next year. They include Madeleine Vionnet, Elsa Schiaparelli and Christian Dior, as well as Yves St Laurent, Ossie Clark, Bill Gibb and Alexander McQueen. The Great Names of Fashion exhibition at the Bath & North East Somerset Council-run Fashion Museum will run from Saturday, 31 January onwards. The new gallery display will showcase some 20 works by these stellar designers - principally glamorous evening dresses worn by some of the leading personalities of their day.

Councillor Ben Stevens (Lib-Dem, Widcombe), the Cabinet Member for Sustainable Development, said: “Fashion is not just about the clothes we wear, what's in and what's out, it's also the story of originality and master craftsmanship in cloth. Fashion is made up of beautiful fabrics, great design and inventive ideas, all realised in 3D by supremely talented and skilled men and women. "This is what the Fashion Museum collection is all about: beautiful, exquisite, clever, inventive, astounding, amazing, intriguing items of dress, created by master craftsmen and women, whether in couture houses, tailoring and dressmaking workshops, or at home with needle and thread."

Beyond this latest display of Gibb, his work is held in every major museum around the world and when you talk about the great British Designers, his name must be included. There wasn't (and still isn't) a lot of actual printed modern references to his work and the only one of real note is the V&A published book Bill Gibb - Fashion and Fantasy written by Iain R. Webb in 2008 that accompanied the first full exhibit of his work - 'Billy: Bill Gibb's Moment in Time' at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London in 2008-2009. If you don't have a copy hunt one down as it is a great reference book for any vintage library. I am not going to quote endlessly from the book but I will say that the subtitle of that book "Fashion and Fantasty" pretty much sums up Gibb and his work.

The examples you most often see of Gibb's work, are the more mass produced knit wear that he did in the mid-70s and early 80s, but it is really his work in jerseys, net & lace, embroidered pieces and stenciled leathers that all somehow marry British design with this great fairy tale approach to design that really display his greatness. He was unrelentingly creative and a true force that pushed design forward at a speed that is dizzying in retrospect. Elements of nature often play a part of his work and it is interesting to see modern designers, like Alessandro Michele of Gucci, pick up and reference his work so very heavily. His work ranged from fantastical poufed and puffed extravaganza's that could only serve the purpose of making a girl feel like a fairy princess, to languid jerseys cut to drape over the body in the most sensual of ways with unexpected detailing and applique work. His knits pair a kaleidoscope of pattern and textures and his leathers deserve an entire column to themselves. The most famous being the bee stenciled versions.

From a celebrity point of view and high endorsement I can only say that the Supermodels of Supermodels, Miss Kate Moss herself is a devoted fan and went out recently wearing head to toe Gibb, which I of course instantly identified. The fashion world all went bonkers over it and wanted to know what "new" designer she was wearing. If there is ever a testament to the enduring power of great design - that is it - when it still looks like it could have just stepped off the runway this season and it is a good 45 years old.....well that kind of says it all.


 Kate Moss wears a 1970s Bill Gibb Dress and Fur Coat to the Louis Vuitton A/W 2015-2016 Menswear Collection Presentation in Paris.



'Great Names of Fashion', Fashion Museum in Bath.



Bill Gibb Dress from 'Great Names of Fashion', Fashion Museum in Barts. (Photos: (L) Mabalu/Wikipedia / (R) Duro Olowu.



1970s Rare Bill Gibb Sequin & Jersey Dress available now at Shrimpton Couture >



Bill Gibb Dress in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston collection.



Bill Gibb, Dress, photographed by Gianni Penati for Vogue, 1972.





Bill Gibb, 1970s.



(L) Bill Gibb, Sketch with swatch, 1969, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.  (R) Bill Gibb, Sketch with swatch, 1976, Victoria & Albert Museum, London.



Bill Gibb: Fashion and Fantasy by Iain R. Webb.




Winter 1972 Bill Gibb Beaded Bee Caftan Dress Set available now at Shrimpton Couture >



Charlotte Rampling wearing Bill Gibb, Vogue UK, 1960's.



(L) Alice Ormsby-Gore in Bill Gibb Ensemble, photographed by Tessa Traeger for Vogue, 1970.  (R) Bill Gibb, Dress, 1974.





Bill Gibb, Leather Jacket and Dress, photographed by Andreas Heuman, 1973.



Twiggy in Bill Gibb Dress, photographed by Justin Villeneuve, ca. 1971.

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